Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for June 2009

How To Do the Moonwalk

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We all should learn.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "How To Do the Moonwalk", posted with vodpod

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2009 at 8:47 am

Posted in Daily life

Tabac today

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SOTD090630

The Simpsons Emperor 2 Super produced a wonderful lather from the Tabac shaving soap—typical for this soap. The Edwin Jagger with a slightly used Astro Superior Platinum blade did a superb job—an exquistely smooth face is the result. And the Tabac aftershave was fine.

My Edwin Jagger uses a Merkur Classic head. The Jagger heads were given extra polishing, and then Jagger-specific plating (chrome or gold), heavier than the usual Merkur plating.

However, Jagger has been working with Muehle-Pinsel on a new head design, and I received the following from Bridget Jagger in an email:

Edwin Jagger and Muehle Pinsel joined forces to develop a unique DE razor head that is exclusive to the two companies and for which they can control production, quality and any future modifications.  Neil Jagger, a designer, has designed the modifications to the head with the full support and approval of the Muller brothers of Muehle Pinsel.  The NEW new head allows for easier cleaning and any shaving cream residue will be minimised.  The two companies are delighted with the new head and customer and user feedback has been excellent.

I’m getting one of the new design to check out. I don’t believe that their Web site photos have been yet updated.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2009 at 8:38 am

Posted in Shaving

Wow! What a great movie!

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I am indebted again to Constant Reader for recommending Tom Dowd and the Language of Music. This one is a must-see: fascinating history of some important technology and absolutely great music.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 4:23 pm

Posted in Movies & TV, Music

The American people want a public healthplan

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The American people overwhelmingly want a public healthplan option. The insurance companies don’t want it. To whom will Congress listen?

From a good article by Ruy Teixeira, well worth reading:

picture-14

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 12:19 pm

The cause of the housing crisis

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The Right wing continues to try to blame the housing crisis on the government—Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the CRA—in spite of the fact that the cause was completely in the hands of private industry securitizing sub-prime mortgages to "eliminate risk" and selling trillions of dollars worth of credit-default swaps. Mary Kane of the Washington Independent has had enough:

Here’s a huge pat on the back and a show of support for Barry Ritholtz, who truly has had it with those who keep clinging to the widely discredited belief that the Community Reinvestment Act caused the housing crisis. Ritholtz writes at The Big Picture that he’s offering a debate challenge, with a prize of up to $100,000 to be paid by the loser, to anyone who will step up and debate him over whether the CRA should be blamed for the mortgage meltdown. A jury will determine who wins the debate.

I’ve run out of patience with tired memes and discredited claims by fools and partisans.

The rhetoric of those pushing nonsense on the public in an attempt to confuse rather than illuminate  — the phrase is “agnotology” –  only serves to aid the lobbyists working on behalf of the Banks and Investment houses to maintain the status quo.

All is well, nothing to see here, move along.

Well, its time to put up or shut up: I hereby challenge any of those who believe the CRA is at prime fault in the housing boom and collapse, and economic morass we are in to a debate. The question for debate: “Is the CRA significantly to blame for the credit crisis?”

A mutually agreed upon time and place, outcome determined by a fair jury, for any dollar amount between $10,000 up to $100,000 dollars (i.e., for more than just bragging rights).

I can’t help but applaud this. No matter how many times it has been shot down, the blame-the-CRA myth keeps coming back to life. As TWI has explained, the CRA, a 1977 anti-redlining law, didn’t even cover the unregulated lenders who made most of the subprime loans during the housing boom. There’s simply no evidence for this assertion.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 11:31 am

Growing up in an iconic house

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Very interesting article and photos of Koenig’s Case Study House No. 22, with a story about how it was just "home" to the kids who grew up there.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 11:25 am

Posted in Daily life

Moving forward on global warming

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From the Center for American Progress:

Friday was a historic day in Congress, as the House passed the first-ever bill designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. The narrow 219-212 vote was a hard-fought victory, overcoming the regional interests of lawmakers, aggressive lobbying by business groups, and misinformation by right-wing pundits. "After more than three decades of being held hostage to the influence of foreign energy suppliers, this legislation at long last begins to break our addiction to imported foreign oil and put us on a path to true energy security," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA), one of the authors of the landmark American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). The other author of the bill, House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming Chair Ed Markey (D-CA), added that the legislation will "create jobs by the millions, save money by the billions and unleash investment in clean energy by the trillions." The bill now moves to the Senate, where the fight for passage will be even tougher. In his weekly address on Saturday, President Obama recognized the challenge and called on senators to not "be prisoners of the past." "Don’t believe the misinformation out there that suggests there is somehow a contradiction between investing in clean energy and economic growth," he urged. "It’s just not true."

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 11:25 am

Why defense reform doesn’t work

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I just bought a copy of Mother Jones magazine. I was at Whole Foods, and I picked up the copy on whim. My God, it’s great! Every article is eye-opening. I went from the reading chair to the computer and immediately subscribed—and the subscription is just $15/year, not bad at all given the quality of the articles. Highly recommended.

This is from a continuing story by Rachel Morris. Well worth reading:

Is defense reform a lost cause? To answer that question, MoJo talked to defense experts, mined years of GAO reports and congressional testimony, and found that the same themes crop up again and again. Here are the main problems that defense reforms almost always fail to truly address:

  • The Pentagon doesn’t know where its money goes. In fact, its accounting systems are so spectacularly busted that it’s impossible to even conduct an audit of the agency, which has been on the Government Accountability Office’s high-risk list since 1995. Its computer programs are prehistoric and don’t connect the money that comes in with the money that goes out. There is no reliable way to detect when contractors are overbilling. DOD’s various agencies and services maintain 2,480 different systems to manage procurement, finances, and logistics, many of which aren’t interlinked.  Often, reams of vital data must be entered by hand. All of this creates myriad possibilities for fraud and abuse. Over the past few decades, the government has spent billions to modernize the DOD’s bookkeeping, but to no avail. Consequently, no one really knows for sure how much the Pentagon has spent, is spending, or should spend on weapons. Instead, the government essentially relies on information from private contractors to make budget decisions.
  • A report by the Defense Science Board Task Force on Developmental Test and Evaluation found that between 1997 and 2006, 67 percent of Army systems flunked testing requirements, yet many were put into development anyway. The notion that the Pentagon should “try before it buys” has been on the books since at least the 1970s, but DOD officials and Congress have never properly enforced it. For all Robert Gates’ encouraging talk about reform, he is set to make the same mistake by fast-tracking production of the F-35.
  • Military brass often order up futuristic equipment that is fantastically complicated—”exquisite,” in Pentagon parlance—but scientifically unproven.
  • The Pentagon routinely enters into contracts based on hopelessly unrealistic cost and schedule estimates. This isn’t just the contractor’s fault. Military officials have a powerful incentive to sign off on lowball estimates, because if they revealed the true cost at the outset, they’d never get their dream toys.  Every once in a while Congress or the White House will demand a new office to produce independent cost estimates, but it’s extremely difficult to make such initiatives genuinely independent because of the cozy relationship between Pentagon officials and the defense industry. And in recent years, this relationship got a lot cozier as the department has relaxed conflict of interest rules for Pentagon officials who move on to the private sector. In 2006, 2,435 former DOD officials, generals, and contract staff were employed by defense contractors, and at least 400 of those may have worked on contracts directly related to their former agencies.
  • There are no consequences for screwing up. When contractors run years behind schedule and billions over budget, they still get paid. By law, Congress must be notified about programs that run 30 percent over budget, and programs costing more than 50 percent must be recertified or terminated, but lawmakers grant exceptions as a matter of routine…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 10:50 am

People who failed math

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The Son sent me a pointer to this:

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 10:45 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Why has the Justice Dept made the Convention Against Torture inoperable?

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Daphne Eviatar of the Washington Independent:

Marcy Wheeler made a great point on Friday that’s worth following up on. President Obama’s declaration to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Torture tosses the responsibility for developing “effective policies and programs for stopping torture” to the State Department, asking it to solicit information from all of our diplomatic missions around the world …”

But the President’s speech seemed primarily aimed at stopping torture abroad, which is presumably why he’s called on the State Department to get involved. But what about torture committed by our own government?

I know some are still debating which techniques constitute “torture” — such as in this scolding piece from The Washington Times — but because the Convention Against Torture, which the president was commemorating, prohibits torture AND cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as I’ve noted before, at this point we can put that debate aside. There’s little question that the sort of techniques engaged in by U.S. government officials — whether partial drowning, “walling,” weeks of sleep and food deprivation or locking detainees inside a tiny box with what were believed to be deadly insects is, at the very least, cruel and degrading.

It’s odd, therefore, as Marcy points out, to see the president — who vowed on his third day in office to end torture — refusing to prosecute those who engaged in acts that clearly violate the anti-torture convention he commemorated on Friday.

As Marcy put it: “Mr. President, the agency that must take the lead in stopping torture is the Department of Justice. The effective policies for stopping torture you’re looking for? They start with prosecuting torture.”

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 10:08 am

The secret story of China’s dictators

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A book that sounds fascinating:

Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang
by Ziyang Zhao

A review by Jonathan Mirsky

Prisoner of the State is the secretly recorded memoir of Zhao Ziyang, once holder of China’s two highest Party and state positions and the architect of the economic reforms that have brought the country to the edge of great-power status. The book has had much attention in the West. Inside China, despite official attempts to denigrate and block any news of it on the Internet, it is already having a powerful effect. This effect will increase as Chinese tourists from the mainland buy the Chinese edition of the book in Hong Kong.

Twenty years ago, just before the Tiananmen killings on June 3 and 4, 1989, Zhao was thrown out of office for sympathizing with the students; until his death in 2005 he spent almost sixteen years under house arrest. Born in 1919 and a member of the Communist Party since 1938, once he achieved great power he was a political loner, with only — a big only — Deng Xiaoping to back him. But when Deng decided to smash the Tiananmen demonstrations, he also smashed Zhao. When Zhao died in 2005, he was nearly forgotten; but the state was still put on high security alert.

When asked about Zhao’s memoir just after it was released, the official government spokesman, according to a press report, brushed the question aside, saying only that all matters involving 1989 have been dealt with. The semiofficial Hong Kong press later carried an attack on Zhao’s disclosures:

If overturning the verdict on the 1989 political turbulence is the interim objective of the “memoirs” editors and those foreign media promoting the book, then advocating the change of China’s current political system into Western parliamentary democracy is their ultimate goal.

But a subsequent report shows that the subject of Tiananmen keeps reappearing: …

Continue reading. It’s a lengthy and informative review.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 10:00 am

Posted in Books, Government

How to help Obama do the right thing

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Good article in Salon.com by Robert Reich:

… People who voted for Barack Obama tend to fall into one of two camps: Trusters, who believe he’s a good man with the right values and he’s doing everything he can; and cynics, who have become disillusioned with his bailouts of Wall Street, flimsy proposals for taming the Street, willingness to give away 85 percent of cap-and-trade pollution permits, seeming reversals on eavesdropping and torture, and squishiness on a public option for healthcare.

In my view, both positions are wrong. A new president — even one as talented and well-motivated as Obama — can’t get a thing done in Washington unless the public is actively behind him. As FDR said in the reelection campaign of 1936 when a lady insisted that if she were to vote for him he must commit to a long list of objectives, "Ma’am, I want to do those things, but you must make me."

We must make Obama do the right things. E-mail, write, and phone the White House. Do the same with your members of Congress. Round up others to do so. Also: Find friends and family members in red states who agree with you, and get them fired up to do the same. For example, if you happen to have a good friend or family member in Montana, you might ask him or her to write Max Baucus and tell him they want a public option included in any healthcare bill.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 9:54 am

Secret on-line coupons

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Squawkfox has a good post on finding secret coupons that save you money when you buy on-line. Check it out.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 9:51 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

DHS invading my pocket

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The Department of Homeland Security has had the bright idea of classifying any knife that can be opened with one hand (like almost all of the pocket knives I own) as a "switchblade." Whoever made that decision doesn’t live in the real world. A pocket knife with one-hand open is invaluable—the other hand is free to hold the string or whatever, while the one hand reaches into my pocket, gets the knife, and opens it.

I think the rule stems from knife-phobia, which is more common than I thought. I once took a box to be mailed, and when asked if anything inside was fragile, liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous, I said no, it was just a knife—a knife with a 9" blade. The postal clerk (a woman) blanched and said, "I don’t think you can mail that."

What?! I told her I bought it on-line and it was delivered by mail, and what was the problem with mailing a knife? She didn’t answer but started flipping through a big book of regulations—no way was she going to accept that package if she could possibly avoid it. A big knife! Too scary! (I wonder how she cuts vegetables in her kitchen—or maybe she has a big pot and cooks them all whole.)

She finally asked the clerk next to her if knives could be mailed. He looked at her as if she was from another planet (Venus, I guess) and said, "Yes."

At any rate, Shawn Zeller for Congressional Quarterly reports:

The National Rifle Association strikes fear in politicians and bureaucrats who might be tempted to restrict gun sales. Now it’s warning the Department of Homeland Security that it also won’t tolerate efforts to restrict knife imports.

The spat centers on a decision by Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection division last month to classify knives that can be opened with one hand as switchblades — even if they don’t open with the simple press of a button, the method best understood in popular culture. The sparsely worded announcement said the department was planning to revoke previous guidance to manufacturers that knives that open with the help of spring mechanisms are not switchblades.

Customs spokeswoman Jenny Burke said in a statement that the agency had in the past issued conflicting rules — some permitting spring-loaded knives, others forbidding them — and that the rule change would clarify the agency’s stance. “Health and public safety concerns” were an important consideration in banning the knives, she added.

But in an e-mail message sent to members earlier this month, the NRA warned that the proposal “could make hundreds of millions of knives, now in regular use, illegal” — and in so doing adversely affect hunters.

The American Knife and Tool Institute (AKTI), a trade group, and Knife Rights, which says it represents individual knife owners, are lobbying to block the proposal. The institute’s lobbyist, J. Nicole Bivens Collinson of Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, has pressed lawmakers to weigh in, and last week more than 80 House members, led by Republican Bob Latta of Ohio and Democrat Walt Minnick of Idaho, signed a letter asking Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to reconsider the proposal.

“We’re struggling to understand the rationale for this, because there’s been no rash of crime having to do with folding knives,” says David Kowalski, the AKTI spokesman. Nor, Kowalski says, is there any evidence that the knives pose a safety hazard. The institute claims that about four in five new knives sold in this country would fall under the switchblade definition, including such ubiquitous models as the Swiss Army knife…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 9:49 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Congress takes action on mountaintop mining

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Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

America’s oldest mountains are being decimated, and after decades of abetment, Congress is finally watching with more critical eyes.

In a Senate hearing on mountaintop mining last week, lawmakers called for an end to the popular and lucrative practice of topping the Appalachian Mountains to tap the coal inside.

That process, in which mining companies blast away mountain peaks and push the debris into nearby streams, has been a boon to the industry, cutting labor costs and eliminating the need to truck the waste to more distant dumping grounds. But it’s also ravaged neighboring communities, poisoning waterways, contaminating air, killing off wildlife and flooding nearby homes.

In the name of job creation and energy economics, lawmakers for decades have permitted — even encouraged — the practice, despite its apparent conflict with federal laws designed to protect the nation’s water resources. But some in Congress are starting to take a closer look at the broader effects of the process — and they don’t like what they see.

“Mountaintop coal mining is a long-term assault on Appalachia’s environment, economy, culture and the health of its citizens,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), chairman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, said Thursday. “We must put an end to this mining method that has buried more than a thousand miles of streams and created untold threats to some of the most beautiful and ecologically significant regions of our country.”

Although the Environmental Protection Agency has vowed to rein in the most destructive mountaintop projects, Cardin, along with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), are hoping to eliminate the practice altogether. The two have introduced legislation to prohibit the dumping of mine debris into streams. A House bill, sponsored by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), has 151 co-sponsors. The intention is to make mountaintop removal economically unattractive to companies that would be forced to truck the waste off-site. Cardin and Alexander are planning a second subcommittee hearing this summer to examine their proposal.

They have a tough road ahead…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 9:35 am

Why we need a public healthcare plan

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Ideally, of course, we’d have a single-payer national healthcare system like that in advanced countries, which simultaneously provide medical care for all while cutting the per-capita cost in half. But that makes sense, something the Right doesn’t quite grasp. So we are left with things like the following (from today’s NY Times editorial):

… A House oversight subcommittee took a close look at a particularly shameful practice known as “rescission,” in which insurance companies cancel coverage for some sick policyholders rather than pay an expensive claim. The companies contend that rescissions are rare. But Congressional investigators found that three big insurers canceled about 20,000 individual policies over a five-year period — allowing them to avoid paying more than $300 million in medical claims.

The companies typically argue that the policyholders withheld information about pre-existing conditions that would have disqualified them from coverage. But the subcommittee unearthed cases where the pre-existing conditions were trivial, or unrelated to the claim, or not known to the patient. When executives for the three companies were asked if they would be willing to limit rescissions to cases where the policyholder deliberately lied on an application form, all said they would not. This tactic will not be ended voluntarily…

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 9:15 am

Global warming and the skeptics

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I’ve discovered one reason it’s so difficult to convince right-wingers that global warming is in fact a crisis. The third chapter of The Authoritarians (free copy at the link) covers research findings on how authoritarian followers think:

… Research  reveals that authoritarian followers drive through life under the influence of impaired thinking a lot more than most people do, exhibiting sloppy reasoning, highly compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and—to top it all off—a ferocious dogmatism that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence or logic.

The author then goes through the research findings that support each of these statements. The highly compartmentalized beliefs, BTW, is how authoritarian followers are comfortable holding contradictory points of view: they get views from trusted sources, but they never “merge files” to make sure their beliefs are consistent. (And even if they do, their inability to reason rigorously defeats them.) When non-authoritarians hear a statement such as “The number one problem facing our country is X”, they automatically look for counter-examples and evaluate the statement. An authoritarian, if the statement is made by an authority, simply accepts it and files it away in one mental compartment or another.

Paul Krugman has some harsh words for the skeptics in Congress:

So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement.

But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases.

And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 9:07 am

Israel building more illegal settlements

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Israel cannot be seriously interested in peace. Reuters, in the Washington Post:

Israel’s Defense Ministry said Monday it had approved construction of 50 new homes at a West Bank settlement as part of a plan for 1,450 housing units, an expansion that defies a U.S. call for a settlement freeze.

News of the planned building work emerged hours before Defense Minister Ehud Barak was due to travel to the United States for talks aimed at narrowing a rift with Washington over the settlement issue.

He will meet President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell.

An affidavit submitted by the Defense Ministry to the Supreme Court outlined plans to relocate settlers from Migron, an outpost built in the West Bank without Israeli government permission, to the settlement of Adam, north of Jerusalem.

According to the document, a response to a court case brought by the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now, a master plan for Adam calls for construction of 1,450 homes there.

But the ministry said it had given the go-ahead for the construction of only 50 of the dwellings and any additional units would require its separate approval.

Peace Now said some 2,500 settlement homes are currently under construction in the West Bank. Obama has pressed Israel to halt settlement activity as part of a bid to revive peace talks under which the Palestinians would gain statehood.

Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, territory Israel captured in a 1967 war. Palestinians say settlements, deemed illegal by the World Court, could deny them a viable and contiguous state…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 8:44 am

Marlborough Monday

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SOTD090629

A very nice, very smooth shave this morning. The Simpsons Classic, one of the little guys, brought forth a fine lather from the D.R. Harris Marlborough shave stick and held enough for all the passes one might want. The Merkur Slant with a previously used Swedish Gillette blade did a great job, and the Marlborough aftershave finished the shave in style.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2009 at 8:37 am

Posted in Shaving

Mindset instruction

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I’m still greatly enjoying the book Mindsets and recommending it left and right, and I’ve come to the point in the book where Dweck talks about her interactive program for students to teach them to have a growth mindset. It’s called Brainology, and I would be very interested to hear anyone’s experience with using the program. It’s aimed at 5th-9th grade students, and the cost varies:

The Brainology Program is priced as a course.

Family Pricing

The price for a single child to take the Brainology® course is US$99, which includes materials to support the lessons in between sessions and after finishing the program.  The price for siblings is discounted (the second license is US$76 and any additional sibling is $50).

Schools, Districts, PTAs and other Organizations

The discount volume price for organizations purchasing 20 or more licenses is US$20 per student taking the Brainology online course.

To Purchase

To purchase, follow the instructions at our Sign Up page. 

Schools and organizations may also be interested in the Purchasing Instructions for Schools and Organizations

If I still had a kid in the grade range, I’d certainly talk to him or her about taking the course and I would pay the price in a New York minute.

I did email the site about the pricing, asking why they had elected to exclude the poor from the program. Their response:

It is an important goal for us to contribute to the elimination of the achievement gap and to make the program available to all who can benefit from it.  To that end, our pricing for public schools and districts is significantly discounted, and we accommodate further discounts to reach underprivileged populations.  We also partner with nonprofits which target underprivileged populations and also provide them with special pricing to distribute the program to all who need it. 

So if you cannot afford the program for your children, contact the site and ask about special discounts.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2009 at 11:03 am

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